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tv   QA with Robert Caro  CSPAN  June 26, 2017 6:00am-7:01am EDT

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drugs d >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. set up by-span was your cable distributor and is brought you today by your cable or satellite provider. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," pulitzer prize-winning biographer robert caro talks -- [on power]e
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which is his audio project looking at the exercise of political power in america. brian: robert caro, why did you decide to do, for the first time, an audio of what you are thinking instead of publishing? robert: when you write your book, hopefully it endures. sometimes you are doing a lecture and you say, that was worth saving. but the thing about lectures is, the moment they are over, they are over. they disappear. so when audible said, could we record two of your lectures, i said, great. brian: so it's for people that do not know it. they can subscribe to that end that this hour and 42 minute talk that you made. it was from lectures? robert: it was the 100th anniversary of the pulitzer prizes. foundationan
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centennial and talk.sked me to give a i put some work into that talk and i said, i wish this wouldn't disappear. someone from audible came up and said, that was a very moving talk. how would you feel about it being recorded? i said, i would like that. but when they did it, they transcribed it. they said it would only come out to 47 minutes. it was not long enough. are you giving any other lectures? as it happened, i was giving one next week also on the subject of political power. but from another angle, at the new york historical society. so they basically took down my words, turned it into a script. i wrote a little abridged thing combining the two things saying how they joined and i recorded it. the interesting thing was, my books are all recorded by an actor. you hear my new york accent perhaps so i said to my agent
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recordell maybe i could one. she says, then the price will go down. [laughter] brian: you mentioned lynn nesbitt and this talk that you made on for people that have no idea the value of an agent and how important it was to you, tell us how it happened. about lynn nesbitt. robert: that's a good story. i was a newspaper reporter and i wanted to do a biography of robert moses as i thought that was a way of examining how real political power works in the cities. because we are in a democracy and we are taught in high school and college that basically the power comes from people casting ballot boxes and people getting elected. but in robert moses, you have a man who was never elected to anything and he had more power than anyone in new york state and new york city that anyone who did. more power than the mayor and governor combined. he held that power for 44 years
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and i had no idea it, nor did anyone else, how he got that power. so i wanted to do this book, but the only advance i could get was for $5,000. they give you $2500 in advance. so for six months, i tried to work on the book while i was a reporter. but i wasn't getting anywhere. we had no savings. so i quit, i got a grant from the carnegie foundation for a year, and the money for that ran out. we sold the house. we had a house in long island. that got us through another year. we moved to an apartment in the bronx. then i was really out of money. and i had written about half the book by that time. three or four years into it. it took seven years to do it.
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and i had dinner with my editor and he said basically, the publishing house liked the book so keep going. i said, can i have the other half of my advance? and he said, no bob. i guess you do not understand. we like the book, but nobody will read it. not many people will going to read the book on robert moses. so you have to prepare yourself for a very small hunter. so walking home that night, i did not know what to say to her. ina. we had no place else to turn. we were out of money. and very quickly after that, my editor left the publishing house, which allowed me -- and i said, i need an agent. so somebody gave me a list. for agents, three of them were men.
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emi talking too long here? i think i am. -- [laughter] robert: three of them were men and it was 1970 -- the women's movement had not come to the bronx. so i went to see the men first. they all reminded me of me. hornrimmed glasses and tweed jacket. they were too much like me. then i went to see this young agent, lynn nesbitt, who was just, i think, setting up. she called and said she read the book and she would like to represent me. could i come in and see her? i went in to see her and she said something very complimentary about the book. she always read the books. and she said, you have to tell me something first. what do you look so worried about? i didn't know i looked worried. but i was. i said i am worried i will not
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have enough money to finish the book and she said, how much do you need? i don't remember the figure, but i figured i needed two more years. i told her what that figure was and she said, -- and she remembers this the same way -- is that what you are worried about? you can stop worrying right now. i can get you that by picking up the phone. everybody in new york knows about this book. i was up in the bronx, i had no idea. that's how i get her. she has been my agent now -- that was 1970, 47 years. i've had the same agent and the same editor for 47 years. brian: i did some calculations. 4500 and 13 pages you have written. i am sure you have written more than that. broker"up "the power and the four books on lyndon
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johnson. how has this business changed for you? the business of writing, since the first book that came out in 1974, 1975. robert: the business of writing has not changed much at all. i still have the same way of doing it. brian: what about the way you look at power since that first book? robert: right, because i was never interested in doing a biography of robert moses or lyndon johnson to write the life story of a great man. i was never interested in that. i was a reporter that covered politics and i got interested in political power. and i conceived of these books as studies in political power. but i thought when you are a reporter, i won a couple of really minor journalistic awards. you think you know everything. the first time robert moses
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iarted talking to me, realized i did not know anything about power at all. and you are just constantly learning things. what lyndon johnson in the senate did -- this way and that way. i had never heard of these things. brian: my numbers here are, when you published,"robert moses the powerbroker," you were 39. when you published the years of lyndon johnson, you were 47. when you published the years of lyndon johnson in the
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senate,"means of ascent," you were 55. when you post master of the senate in two dozen two, you are 67. and the last book in 2012, you are 77. robert: sorry to hear it. brian: did you think you were going to do five books on lyndon johnson? and can you get the presidency written about in one volume? and why didn't you do it in one volume? robert: it was supposed to be three volumes, but when i got into it, i realized i wanted to spend a whole lawyer on the senate, master of the senate, how the senate works, because i think it is fascinating. the senate before lyndon johnson, it was a great institution. the days of webster, clay and calhoun. that's the 1850's. then for 100 years after that, until 1955, it was the same dysfunctional mess it is today. lyndon johnson becomes majority leader in january, 1955. january 1961 when he becomes vice president.
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in those six years, it is the center of governmental creativity and ingenuity and energy in washington. it is not dwight eisenhower's civil rights bill, it is lyndon johnson's civil rights bill. i said, if i could figure out how he did it and explain it to people, for one thing it will take a long time. that made it four volumes. and then there was the stolen election. i was only going to write one chapter on that. that he -- as your listeners probably know. he was probably was tens of thousands of votes behind when he ran for the senate in 1948. he finally wound up winning by 87 votes because the ballot boxes found in the middle of the desert with 200 votes had the same handwriting cast in alphabetical order. so as i got into that, i said, i am supposed to know something
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about political power. i never thought about what a stolen election means. what is a stolen election? how is it done? i am going to explain the whole thing and that's another volume. it's up to five lines now. brian: i know you hate this question. but i'm going to read this back to you and have you fill in the blanks at the end this is on wikipedia, it's about your books on lyndon johnson. in november 2011, caro estimated he fifth and final volume would require two to three years to write. in march 2013, he affirmed a commitment to completing the series with a fifth volume. as of april 2014, he was researching the book still. where are we? everyone wants to know and i know you hate that question? robert: i've done almost all the research already. i've written about 400 type pages of it. i have one more big thing of research to do.
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brian: is that vietnam? robert: yes. all i can say to you is, it will take this long. i am not going to change the way i do it. just because i'm getting older, i don't know what the point would be. brian: on the vietnam stuff, you were going to go and live in vietnam. like you did in the hill country. are you still going to do that? robert: yes. as it happens, when i finished the section i am working on now, which is within johnson's passing and this incredible verse in 1965, he passes the voting rights act, medicare, medicaid, i think 16 separate education bills. whenever poor people get paid to go to college now, it's lyndon johnson. he passes headstart, he does this all in a few months. so it's quite a study, one of the formative moments in american history. the moment is three or four months.
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he wins this landslide election in november 1964 against barry goldwater. and rams through so much of what has been made america so good today. what it is today. -- when you are old today, what did you do before when you knew doctors bills were coming? it's a new world in so many different ways because of what he did. i said i'm going to explain this -- how he managed to do it. in the same -- i don't say i'm doing it good or right, but it's the way i do it. i am going to show how he got these things all through so fast. brian: when i listened to the, roughly two-hour bob caro talking about himself, his books, his life, all that. that was one word, there was one word i kept hearing. do you have any idea what that is, besides power? robert: ina?
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[laughter] brian: that's not the word i'm thinking about, but talk about her. ina, if i can figure it right, you've been married to her for 60 years. she is the only other person to research anything for your book. robert: that's true. i know other historians, really good historians have teams of researchers. there is nothing wrong with that. i look at the acknowledgment, sometimes they have for research assistance. they have a team of research assistance. but i have a team, and it's ina.
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ina's the whole thing. other people do see and and suck like that, but she is the only person that i have ever trusted to do research on the books beside myself. brian: where did you meet her? robert: i met her at princeton. brian: what was she studying? robert: she was at connecticut college, a sophomore. she had already started her interest in medieval france. she has written two books of her own about france which are enduring works on the section of -- intersection of history and travel. really revolutionary ideas. but she has always been there for me. brian: how much has achieved research for you? i don't know if there is a way to categorize it. is she always at your side? i know you spent a whole a lot of time in the hillside. the him himhill country at the lbj library. -- hill country near the lbj
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library. was she with you then? robert: the thing i was talking about before when the money ran out, the first time, when we were doing the powerbroker, we had talked about selling the house. she loved the house. i didn't really care. ina loved it. and she came home one day and she said, we sold the house today. that was one moment that involves ina. there are so many. another was, i said you know, i am not understanding the hill country. i am not understanding these people. they are different from new york. i'm not understanding lyndon johnson. we will have to move to the hill country for maybe two or three years. and she said, why can't you do a biography about napoleon? then she says what she always says which is, sure. so she does her own books. but she also does an awful what -- lot of research for me. brian: this is about a minute i think.
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this is the word that -- you will hear it -- that i want you to talk about. this word. [begin video clip] robert: so i was at harvard alone and i did not take a lead or like going to social events alone. i spent a lot of my evenings alone in that office. it was a land of incredible loneliness. i realized i was not understanding this loneliness. when you are alone like that, big things come from little things. rebecca was alone a lot with brutally hard work and loneliness. gentle, dreamy, bookish woman would be alone. alone in the dark when she went out on the porch to pump water.
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alone with the rustlings in the trees and the sudden splashes in the river. alone in the storms where the wind howled around the house. alone in the horrible nights. alone in bed with no human being to hear you if you should call. [end audio clip] brian: the first part of it was you talking about being alone. the second part was about rebecca, the mother of lyndon johnson. but i kept hearing the word loneliness, lonely, and alone. robert: that's very perceptive that you picked that out. nobody has ever done it. the hill country was so empty, one of the most remote, isolated, and empty areas of the united states. when lyndon johnson was growing up, they had the johnson ranch, which is 18 miles beyond johnson city. johnson city was a little huddle of houses. but the ranch was 18 miles further up into the hills. lyndon johnson's little brother said the kids were so lonely that he and his brother, they would go down one corner of the ranch down to next to what they
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called the austin fredericksburg highway. it was just a graded path. he and lyndon used to go down to that corner of the fence nearest the road and sit there for hours in the hope that one new person would come by on a horse or car -- carriage so they would have somebody new to talk to. i said this is a loneliness here i am not getting what it means. so one of the things i did was i took -- i wanted to see what it was like to have a whole day with nobody to talk to. like the women of the hill country. if they didn't have kids. a whole day with no one to talk to. go to sleep, get up the next date with nobody to talk to. so i took a sleeping bag and went to the hills and did that. what you had, what you play for your listeners, was one of the little things become big things. also, the nights are really scary.
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and you say -- these women of the hill country, their husbands were often away. like sam johnson was often away. he was a legislator, she was out there all alone. and all alone means something, which is hard. it's hard for people in cities to even grasp. brian: how lonely do you think lyndon johnson was dealing with the vietnam war? robert: i have not been to vietnam, but i have spent months, if not years of my life, researching how we got into vietnam. what it looked like from inside the white house. let me say that. the story of how we got into it vietnam, i'm just really up to it now. i think i am going to have to
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take a pass on answering that. brian: that's fine. i know you are in the middle of the book. i'm just wondering if you've discovered, when you talk about loneliness, if lyndon johnson was ever lonely and what did he do about it if he was? robert: as president? brian: yes. robert: he narrowed the circle of decision-making to very few people. many of the crucial decisions on vietnam escalating the war for the first time, the first large escalation, and all the succeeding escalations, a lot of the details of that were decided not in cabinet meetings and not in meetings of national security council, but what he used to call the tuesday lunch. as every tuesday at 1:00, they would have lunch in the family dining room.
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it varied, but there often be only four people at the table. on his left would be robert mcnamara. next to him was the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, gus wheeler. so if you can get an idea of the thinking among this very small group of people, ultimately -- you learn a lot about when an empire, which is what we are, goes to war. by just figuring out best you can what was happening at those lunches. he narrowed the people who knew about the decision-making -- the
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secrecy was almost an object. he was a secretive man and he wanted secrecy. he kept the group of decision-makers so small that you really say, it's just this little group of men that are doing it. brian: how much can you tell us what your plans are in vietnam? where are you going to go, how long are you going to be there, how we you get the feel of it now that the country is no longer at war? robert: well, i want to go to the great battlefields. i want to get an idea of -- i want to describe -- there are a number of good books on this but i want to go for myself -- what it's like to fight in the jungle. you know, because that's really something. had neverwe
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encountered. i had a friend who was a great war correspondent. he was a great friend of mine. he said, i covered the normandy invasion in world war ii and i remember the big red one swaggering through the hedgerows of normandy. then they sent me to vietnam and i wrote in a helicopter and as i was going into the jungle, we landed in a clearing. i saw this file of men and as each man entered the jungle, they disappeared. i knew in that moment we were in something we had never been in before. so i wanted to try and learn about that. i wanted to go also -- we dropped more bombs on vietnam then we dropped on all of europe in world war ii. i want to go to one of these villages. there is a lot of stuff i want to do.
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you know me. everywhere. yeah. hanoi?will you go to how long do you think you will have to spend there? robert: i don't know. we stayed in the hill country until i could feel like i could write about the hill country. like everything with me, it takes longer than i thought. brian: how do you stay healthy? robert: how do i what? brian: how do you stay healthy? i know you are a swimmer. robert: yes, i do a lot of exercise. [laughter] robert: i swim a lot. i used to run a lot. my ankle gave out. in my house, i have an elliptical. i do a lot of exercises. brian: we have talked so much, i
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think you talked about in the program that you had a serious back problem based on playing basketball. robert: yeah. [chuckling] brian: and were you laid up a long time for that and is it still bother you? robert: well what happened was, i was at harvard when i was 29, or 28. i played an intramural basketball league, a big mistake. i really hurt my back badly. i had to stay in bed, i had a bad thing -- they did not want to operate because the chances of success was too small. so ina had been teaching to earn money. that was the money that was coming in. but then i could not get up and around for a lot of months.
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that's when she started doing research. because i was an investigative reporter. i was then researching how robert moses got the political parties, the republican political party, they represented the robber barons. nashua the gold coast. they did not want the people from new york out there. robert moses wanted to create jones beach. how did he persuade him to do that? one of the ways he persuaded him was to let the top republican political bosses out there know going to parkway was the jones beach was
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going to go and where the exits would be, because that's what the price of land would go up because you would have developments there. i had to prove that. i knew how to prove that from my days as an investigative reporter, but a means going to the courthouse and looking up transfers, deeds, incorporation papers, a lot of stuff. ina would call me and i'd say, there is a telephone booth on the second floor. we did not have cell phones at that time. she would call. and right behind you is swinging doors that go into the county clerk's office. i said, go in there and turn to the right. i said there would be a guy there and you want to look at the e transfers and you would like to look at them yourself. then you go to the second corridor there. go down halfway.
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i really knew this courthouse. that's how ina started doing research for me. i knew that, it's not something that goes away. brian: we've talked about janet trammell in your office. i want to go back to some video. not video, audio. you bring up in your talks on you bring up a scenario with lyndon johnson in the civil rights, when he is talking with the senator of connecticut. the senator of new mexico. senator van harkey of indiana. before we listen to that stuff, what is the story? robert: that's an amazing story. it is a story about legislative genius. johnson also had the tactical genius. he gets a telephone call. he realizes something that no one else realizes. that richard russell, the leader of the republican southern all-powerful civil
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congress, was stopping the civil rights bill in 1964. one of the ways he was doing it was saying we can't bring that up until we get the tax cut bill out of the way. they were stalling the tax cut bill. they think that it's going to go through harry byrd's finance committee, but the southerners are very smart. george smathers, calls lyndon johnson at the lunch break says it is all over. we've lost and there's nothing we can do. they put in this thing on excise taxes and we lost. we lost three of the votes. there's nothing that can be done. we will just have to give it up. lyndon johnson says to his secretary, line them up for me. which means, have the three of them on the telephone.
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lyndon johnson is a genius with men. there's no time for him to do anything else. go to the heart of it. what is going to work with each man? anderson always wanted to be a leader of the senate. he was never elected to lead anything. johnson says something like, maybe it is on the tape. you can be the leader. change your vote back. another, he doesn't want excise taxes. abe says, i can't change my vote back. i promised my constituents. johnson says, "abe, you save my face today, i'll save your face tomorrow." he knows lyndon johnson is a really good guy to have on your
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side, and a really bad guy to cross. he changes the three votes back in whatever i say in my book. is it nine minutes? brian: six. robert: six? [laughter] robert: i didn't get the quotes exactly right. smathers was a real powerful senator. he said there's nothing anybody can do. johnson changes it all around in six minutes. brian: this is one minute 30 seconds. you say all of this happened within a period of six minutes of calls. let's listen to this. [begin audio tape] >> i'll do anything to get that
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damn tax bill out. >> i don't know. >> you get anderson to go back with you, and you get russell. looks like you got members, can't you get byrd? >> not yet. >> maybe we can talk to them about it. abe, will you go with us on this excise thing? let us get a bill, god damn it, you need to vote with me just once in a while. don't you worry about saving your face. is going to be better when i get with you. i'll save your face. you save my face this afternoon, and i'll save your face tomorrow. >> you get down there and get ribicoff to vote with me. get in there and try to help me. we want to just have a general vote. one vote to put all the excises back so we get the majority people. >> let me try and get that done. >> you do that and get a hold of
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clint anderson and see if you can do that for me. >> all right. >> and i'll do something for you. >> i know you will. >> bye-bye. [end audio clip] brian: the last wanted to save that that horn company in indiana. what were you thinking when you listened? i know you've heard this many times. robert: this is legislative genius. you asked me why the number of books keeps expanding. we don't understand legislative genius in this country. in england, there are all these books on parliament. they understand how important legislative leadership is. we had no idea what legislative
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genius was like. bob caro --we" -- you just listen to a few minutes of it. he's changed three votes. he's gotten the tax bill out of the committee, on the floor, and civil rights could come behind it. that's how the civil rights bill of 1964 gets passed. would we have that civil rights bill today? if lyndon johnson had been majority leader? i'm not so sure. the country turns to the right after that. skilledte bloc was so at keeping it stalled in the senate. i have to explain this. i maybe wrong about this. you have to show what the senate
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was. you have to show why no civil rights had passed in 87 years. and you have to say, you have to show what is happening out in the country with the protests and african-americans won't take it anymore. what will happen if there isn't any legislation that they deserve to have? all of these things hinge on lyndon johnson being able to get not that civil rights bill with the tax bill out of the way, and you just heard how he did it. brian: was he interested in civil rights for political reasons or personal reasons, or both? robert: oh, no. well, you always ask good questions. you said "or both." with lyndon johnson, it is always "or both." he had compassion since the beginning. but ambition was the overriding consideration with him. it was only when compassion and ambition coincided. when he's in the senate, he realizes that he wants to be president, he has to pass the civil rights bill. that he really turns to this.
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so then you say, was he false? not at all. all his life, he had wanted to help poor people, and particularly poor people of color. how do i feel that i know that? when he was 21, 22 years old, he taught -- he went to college, what he called the poor boys school in texas. the poor teachers' college in texas. he had to take a year off between his sophomore and junior years to get enough money to go back. during that year, he teaches in a mexican-american school in texas. i wrote in that book, no teacher had ever cared if these kids learned are not. this teacher cared. he thought it was important for them to learn to speak english,
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so he would tongue-lash and yell if someone was speaking spanish during recess. he got the school board to give them baseball bats and all. that he wanted to have a debating team like the white kids had. what he would do, he would walk over to the migrant huts and persuade the farmers, people who couldn't lose a day's wages in the field to take the kids to transport the team to sporting
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events or debate events, so you knew that he cared. throughout my books, you see moments where you say, this is from the heart. when he hears that the town of three rivers won't bury a soldier killed in the korean war in the town cemetery because he is a mexican-american, how do we know the scene? johnson comes in to the office, and jenkins hands him the telegram. johnson says, "by god, then we'll bury him in arlington." national cemetary. real. say, that's brian: of all five books you have written, which one sold the most? which one has been the most popular? robert: off the top of my head, i don't think i know. the last three have been number one bestsellers. know, i don't know
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which one has sold the most. brian: what kind of stories have you heard of people that have used your books? i read somewhere in preparation for this interview that somebody listened to the 150 hours of all the johnson books on audio. what kind of stories have you heard were someone has made a course out of it, the kind of thing you want in the way of impacts? robert: of course, a keeper memory, this editor saying not many people are going to read a book on robert moses. some years ago, random house did a computer printout of how many bookstores ordered at least 50 copies of a book. -- and the power broker was then used in 230 colleges. sometimes you realize that someone has really understood it. i was giving this talk at some college in queens, and this young man comes up to me and says, you know, i've really studied "the powerbroker."
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i'm in student government and i chose to be on the bylaws committee. i said, there's a guy who got the book. the other thing which is so moving to me is the life of these women without electricity. they are all dead. them.d i interviewed ina did a lot of interviews with those women, how hard life was without electricity. now they're all dead. that world would be gone now. i used to give a lot of talks or several talks -- more than several -- before electrical operatives associations. women would say, i'm so glad he wrote this book because my mother told me how hard life was, and i wanted my daughter to know. i could see she thought i was exaggerating, but now she can read the book. the things that people take away from the books that really moved me, that's the most moving. brian: in all of your research and study about power, if you didn't write about robert moses
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or lyndon johnson, who would be the next person you've found that you might think would be interesting? [laughter] robert: i'm very superstitious. i have another topic in mind. i feel if i say it, i am not going to do it, so i am not going to answer that. brian: how many people are left around lyndon johnson that you can still talk to about him? robert: i talked to scores and scores of them. john connelley, walter jenkins. many interviews. i spent almost the whole week at john connolly's ranch, watching his horses exercise. he would talk to me. from dawn to dark.
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walter jenkins is dead. i used to be able to call george reedy. he understood. you didn't have to make a lot of nonsense. you'd say, george, that scene you told me where johnson was talking to george wallace, was he in the rocking chair or behind the desk? he would say, behind the desk. now i don't have that. he has a secretary who has been a great help to me. she was sitting right outside the oval office all this time. she was on the plane coming back from dallas. larry temple, his last white house counsel, has been very helpful, tom johnson, who later became the president of cnn. brian: and he's still chairman of the foundation? robert: i'm not sure, but also joe palifono has spent so much time with me.
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i had two or three interviews with him. he was the chief of getting the domestic legislation through congress. he said, is there anything else i can do for you? he has this row of big, black scrapbooks. i was embarrassed to ask. i said, what you could do for me is take down these books one at a time and tell me what was happening in each of these photographs. he said, ok. we must have spent two days doing that. so you get a lot of help. brian: what is your plan? all your archival material, do you have any idea where you want to place these interviews and this research you have done? robert: that's a very important question. i happen to be wrestling with it right now because i have a lot
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of stuff in my files. what percentage is in the books? 5% would be a lot. i'm sure it's less than that. i have hundreds and hundreds of interviews with people who are now dead, so they can't be interviewed about these things anymore. they do oral histories, and they don't often get to the heart of what was really happening. the most important thing for me is to have them in a place where they will be accessible and properly indexed so researchers in the future can have them. i remember in the "powerbroker," i said, this is such a fascinating figure. al smith has been called the major american political figure most forgotten by history.
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franklin roosevelt said to frances perkins, you know, 90% of everything we did in the new deal, everything we are doing, al smith did first in new york. there were 14 people left alive who had actually worked closely with al smith. i interviewed all 14 of them. if someone comes along to do a biography of al smith, i wanted them to know there is a place where they can go to these 14 interviews. that is a real problem i haven't solved. brian: is it likely to be in a university? or a big library? library of congress? robert: it is a problem i'm thinking about a lot now. i'm wrestling with it, and i haven't decided. brian: i can get away with asking you this question because i am only six years younger than you are. [laughter]
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brian: you are 81. do you have a plan in the event that something happens to you with the last book, and what you do with it? like in the case with the paul reed follow on the winston churchill book? robert: my plan is that i don't want anybody to write a book with my name on it but me. i don't happen to think that was a very good idea, what happened with manchester's book. i've written an awful lot on power. as i say, i am not rushing this last book. i'm trying to do it the same way as my other books. i don't want people to think that something is written by me when it is not. brian: i know bob gottlieb has edited everything you've ever done. do you pass on, as you are writing the fifth book on lyndon johnson, to bob gottlieb to edit
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what you have done already? robert: no, with one exception. i never show my books to him or anyone until they are completely done. there was one exception when i just needed more money back when i was doing the first volume. he wanted to see what i had done, which is reasonable. so that he saw it halfway through. but the second, third, and fourth volumes he didn't see until they were done. i haven't showed him any of this one. brian: there's a point in your audio-only session -- people can get it on -- where you reveal, in my opinion, what your personal philosophy is about power and what it is good for. i'm going to run the audio from
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that, and you can either agree with me or disagree. tell us more about it. [begin audio clip] robert: there is injustice that can be caused by political power, but also great good. it seems that people have forgotten this. they have forgotten what franklin roosevelt did, how he transformed people's lives, how he gave hope to people. now people talk in vague terms about government programs and infrastructure, but they have forgotten the women of the hill country and how electricity changed their lives. they've forgotten that when robert moses got the triborough bridge built in new york, that was infrastructure. steel mills had to be reopened in 14 different states just to get the steel for the girders. that bridge created 6000 jobs. we certainly see how government can injure you today. people have forgotten what
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government can do for you. they have forgotten the potential of government, the power of government to transform people's lives for the better. [end audio clip] robert: i am glad you played that because that is something i hope people take away. when we were in the hill country, and you started to learn about women who didn't have electricity, so they have to do the wash by hand, pull up every bucket of water from the well by hand, their lives were the same lives as peasants in the medieval times. i said to ina, they get this new
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guy, if you write about the effects of political power, there are all these crosscurrents you have to get in. social forces, economic forces, immigration. but here you have a tabula rasa. an area in the middle of nowhere, it is isolated from the rest of america. they are living a certain kind of life, it is a hard, mean, cruel, bitter life to eke out a living. it is a tabula rasa. it is not like a city. if we really examine this, if we talk to the women over and over again -- and the men -- and see, were lives changed, how they were changed, we will be showing what government can do for people. i feel that that is the most significant thing underlying so much else that has unfortunately happened to america.
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yes, we have forgotten the power of government to transform your lives. i keep thinking that i needed new glasses, i went to an eye clinic. you see a lot of these people, a lot of them pretty obviously low income people. children sitting there. i say, there's no bill. medicare and medicaid pays the entire bill. they go in and see the doctor, walk out. does anyone understand it took a political genius to pass medicare?
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the night after kennedy is assassinated, lyndon johnson can't sleep, so he calls to his bedroom three of his aides and starts talking about what he wants to do. one is, i am going to pass harry truman's health bill reform. harry truman had tried and failed to pass medicare. franklin roosevelt had thought about it. but lyndon johnson came along and did it. when i'm looking around, does anybody in this room understand that that is what the power of government can do to transform lives for the better? brian: i remember talking about the resistance you got from the johnson library when the first books came out. chuckling] brian: have you tried to talk with his daughters, or did you try to talk with his now deceased wife lady bird? robert: lady bird johnson talked to me. i'm now forgetting the hours. brian: you had twenty or something. robert: we had many hours. the daughters have both expressed that they don't like the books at all.
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say, lady bird, too, stopped talking to me before i published any. i think i said this to you on some program, i has said to them when i started book, i sent her a copy of "the power broker" and i said, this is the kind of look i am trying to write. i am not trying to write a favorable or unfavorable book about your husband. but i will check out every story that somebody says to me. i think when it was realized that somebody was going around checking out all these stories that they decided -- that lady bird stopped talking to me. but she was immensely helpful. i have many pages of many hours with her. the daughters have expressed dislike of the books. i don't know that i blame them.
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if i had a daughter and someone was writing a book about me, and there was negative stuff in there as well as positive stuff, i think i would like her not to like the books, either. because of the views that have been expressed, i haven't really tried to talk to them. brian: what period of lyndon johnson's life have you enjoyed the most? robert: have i enjoyed? i can answer that. the most amazing thing to me was what he does in the first days and weeks and months after kennedy's assassination, which is in "the passage of power." to me, it is -- he has to take over the power of president. think of the president we have now. i wrote in that book, what if this new president didn't
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inspire confidence in people? they hadn't voted, he was a new president. he wasn't jack kennedy. what would it mean for the country? the way johnson comes in and inspires confidence in the country, takes over, makes people think the government is still working and says, i'm going to pass jack kennedy's legislation. the civil rights bill, medicare, the way he does this in the first couple of months, the way he takes over the government, to me, if you're interested in political power, the very essence of it, it is in the first days and weeks and months after jack kennedy is assassinated when lyndon johnson comes in and takes over the government and keeps it running and passes a lot of stuff that wasn't getting passed before. brian: that's for talking with us. there is no book this time, but
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it is on, you can find one minute 42 seconds of your stream of consciousness about writing, about power, about lyndon johnson, and about robert moses. we appreciate you very much for joining us. robert: thank you. [laughter] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] announcer: for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q&a episodes are also available as podcasts. ♪ announcer: if you liked this q&a with robert caro, go to to see more interviews with him from 2008 and 2012 discussing his multivolume biography on lyndon johnson. another interview you might enjoy is with historian betty boyd, who talks about the
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>> another interview you might with historian betty boyd. here on c-span, "washington journal" is next. the house gavels in for general speeches, legislative at 2:00. one of the items on the agenda a the fema require administer to recommend generality standards for disaster assistance. "washington journal" columnist jason riley on his "false black power" book which argues elected leaders failed to produce results for african-americans. rob krist novoselic and
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richie on their efforts to electoral system. later scott maucione talk about increase in military pay that's part of the 2018 federal budget. watchers and media. at the supreme court today on day of the a possible announcement about the travel ban by the trump come countyon could today. wondering justice anthony kennedy will announce his retirement. constitution allows federal to receive lifetime appointment. we want to hear from you first hour about that. that's a good system or do you think as that a goodmits are possibility for supreme court justices? our first hour, you can let us


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